Aussie startup launches battery electrolyte pilot manufacturing line

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Allegro Energy recently commissioned a pilot-scale manufacturing line for the supercapacitors at Warners Bay, New South Wales.

The Newcastle-based startup, which was included on The Australian‘s list of Green Power Players 2023, is aiming to build and operate a factory to manufacture both supercapacitors and redox flow battery electrolyte for Australian and international customers in the coming five years. 

Headed by University of Newcastle Professor Thomas Nann and two of his former PhD students, Allegro is seeking to commercialise a microemulsion battery electrolyte breakthrough made at the Victoria University in Wellington, New Zealand, back in 2017.

Microemulsions are essentially a combination of water molecules with hydrophobic liquid, coupled with a surfactant allowing the two normally repellent solvents to bond.  The combination occurs at a micro level to ensure it’s thermodynamically stable.

In their research, the team behind Allegro found that using by microemulsions as a battery electrolyte, you can overcome the pesky 1.2 volt barrier which has thus far plagued water-based or aqueous electrolytes. 

What that unlocks in real terms is a form of electrolyte that is far cheaper, easier, non-toxic and less carbon intensive to manufacture.

According to the startup’s modelling, 70% of the price of supercapacitors is the electrolyte. “One litre or kilogram of the current electrolyte costs about USD 10, ours costs 10 cents,” Professor Nann previously told pv magazine Australia. “So it’s a factor of 100 cheaper.”

This lower price means the technology can cater to solutions that were not previously commercially viable. “For example, EVs [electric vehicles] and grid stabilisation, because the solution is so cheap it becomes competitive for these applications,” Allegro Energy Manufacturing Engineer Mark Wojcik told Dashworks.

For supercapacitors, Allegro will sell tailored solutions. This would comprise a bank of supercapacitors and an electronic management system that monitors the health of the capacitors. Solving problems, rather than selling a single product.”

“With [redox flow batteries], again our safe and cheap electrolyte gives us an advantage in the large-scale, long-duration market. This is a relatively young market, so it is a bit of a race to be the dominant company in the market internationally,” he added.

So far, the major challenges for the Allegro team has been shifting the collective mindset from research-based to manufacturing-based, as well as “learning to do everything for the first time,” Wojcik said.

“Connecting the machines up, commissioning them and figuring out how they all work was an interesting journey for the team,” he said of the recent pilot line set up. 

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